COVID-19 rollercoaster places strain on delivery operations as e-commerce soars – but savvy operators can use smart TMS software to take the strain.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has provided a challenging scenario to all sectors of the UK economy, yet the new ‘normal’ has led to thousands of high street dependent businesses turning to e-commerce and commencing – or massively increasing – deliveries to customers.

While British retail sales suffered a meltdown as many high street stores closed – the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the amount plummeted by a record 18.1 per cent (April 2020) – online shopping reached a record high of 30.7 per cent as a proportion of all retail as people purchased from their homes during lockdown.

This increased reliance on e-commerce puts even greater pressure on businesses to deliver goods and parcels efficiently and effectively to retain a competitive edge. Those with the slickest operations are able to cope best with the dramatic shift to online sales as the pandemic runs its course.

Yet operating with a reduced workforce due to COVID-19 social distancing restrictions and other safety measures presents challenges in a warehouse or for a logistics provider processing a boost in online orders. You will require all hands on deck to keep pace with demand – and that’s where Transport Management Systems (TMS), sometimes also referred to as Carrier Management Solutions (CMS), are so vital.

Shipping software solutions specialists like SmartFreight have seen increased enquiries from businesses with a high street presence who initially didn’t think they could justify adopting TMS/CMS. Now, with an online spike in demand for their goods, those with no solution to speak of and who may be using multiple transport providers are spending more and more time keying in orders manually.

However big or small a business is, streamlining the despatch operation using the latest shipping solution not only frees up staff, but provides an automatic choice of transport provider best suited to the client’s requirement, along with the flexibility to manage a dip or spike in volumes during a crisis, whether it’s for groceries or car parts.

Driving deliveries more efficiently

A manufacturer or distributor in the automotive industry may not feel it’s economically or environmentally justified to use a vehicle from its own fleet to deliver a small quantity of new exhausts, brake pads or bulbs to a local garage. Using an integrated TMS/CMS to select an external transport provider would complement their products by providing the fastest, cheapest or the greenest option.

Customers want short delivery times and precise timescales. Meeting these expectations often means juggling different transport providers and their various systems, which is not an easy operation to do manually. Consolidating all of your transport providers into a single platform improves the distribution process and delivers an efficient method of connecting fulfilment and shipping.

An e-commerce business that doesn’t have an integrated TMS/CMS is likely to be manually processing the same data multiple times through different systems, with the potential for human error, while shipping orders on sub-optimal routes or services causes delays, additional costs and a poor customer experience. 

Businesses also need to consider customers who place numerous orders, not necessarily at the same time, but are anticipating receiving them on the same day. Why despatch multiple consignments to one address when an integrated TMS/CMS will consolidate all the orders placed in one day to send out as one consignment, reducing shipping costs, product miles and helping the environment?

That’s the beauty of an integrated TMS/CMS – businesses can slice and dice their distribution pie any way they like to suit specific needs. It’s all about making a commercial decision based on customer requirements. The best systems will also automatically reconcile transport providers’ invoices, saving time and the laborious task of doing so manually and reducing the risk from human error.

End-to-end tracking

An integrated solution receiving tracking data from transport providers provides shipment information to customers via a branded tracking portal. This data is enhanced via email alerts and SMS which inform where the items are within the delivery journey, regardless of transport provider used, substantially reducing inbound calls on shipment status while at the same time constantly reinforcing the shipper’s brand.

Local companies with their own fleet can access a cost-effective delivery tracking solution comparable to the UK’s best transport providers with a module in the TMS/CMS. This provides track and trace capability from a smartphone and app, giving your small fleet the tracking and Proof of Delivery (POD) capability without the need to deploy costly specialised hardware in each vehicle. A lack of shipment visibility from a local fleet in comparison to other transport provider partners may lead to customer frustration.

Whether dealing with extreme fluctuations in orders, or you are just thinking it’s time to review your shipping technology and processes to keep up with the ever-increasing demands and challenges in the e-commerce market, then integrated TMS/CMS and delivery tracking technology should be your first consideration.